Dr. Francis Fluharty, Research Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University
A newly formed Ohio-based company had two animals harvested and processed in The Ohio State University Meat Laboratory for photographs of meat cuts conforming to the Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS). The IMPS is the standard used by hotels, restaurants, and other food service distributors when purchasing meat cuts. The work was being conducted by Ron Cramer, Manager of the Meat Laboratory, and Dr. Lyda Garcia, an Assistant Professor and Meat Scientist in the Department of Animal Sciences.
The company, Ohio Wagyu BeefTM, was formed, originally, by Francis Pang, a long-time restauranteur and Wagyu breeder who lives in Navarre, Ohio, and Lawrence Adams, a Wagyu producer and former CEO of Imperial Wagyu. In 2014, Adams and Pang met while both men were attending a Wagyu program in Columbus, at which Dr. Francis Fluharty, a Research Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, was discussing his research on how nutrition and animal management impact growth and marbling in feedlot cattle. Adams and Dr. Fluharty had met several years earlier when Adams was in Ohio looking at agricultural investment opportunities.
A few months after the meeting, Pang sold Adams some of his feed cattle, and the carcasses were so impressive that Adams came to Ohio to see Pang. During this visit, Pang explained how he had diligently studied Wagyu genetics, in order to produce the finest beef. Pang is able to trace his Wagyu cattle to those that were first imported to the USA from Japan in 1975. The Japanese were only willing to export a few Wagyu cattle, which encouraged U.S. producers to develop their own herds. To aid his genetic research, he had taken the Ohio Beef Feedlot Short Course that Dr. Fluharty teaches, and he used many of the recommendations given in the course. Since 2001, Dr. Fluharty has taught an in-depth, 12-hour short course on feedlot management to over 650 people in Ohio. Course material is based on over 30 years of Dr. Fluharty’s research. In 2015, Dr. Fluharty was invited by Adams to discuss his research at a cattle feeding symposium sponsored by Adams’ former company, Imperial Wagyu.
In 2016, Adams resigned from Imperial Wagyu, and he reconnected with Pang with thoughts of developing a branded Wagyu program in Ohio. Two of the factors which led to this are Ohio’s, and the region’s, high-quality Angus cow herd base, and the confinement feeding operations in the area that reduce the maintenance requirements of the cattle due to their being in less mud and snow than many western feedlots. With a high-marbling branded product, environmental conditions can impact product quality greatly.
In February, 2017 Dr. Fluharty was contacted by John Hondros, a well-known Ohio businessman, who had recently entered the Wagyu beef business with his Thistlegate Farms in Sunbury, OH. Hondros’ interest in Wagyu beef came from its tenderness, marbling, and health benefits. According to the American Wagyu Association’s website, “Health experts have discovered the mono-unsaturated to saturated fat ratio is higher in Wagyu than in other beef and, the saturated fat contained in Wagyu is different. Forty percent is in a version called stearic acid, which is regarded as having a minimal impact in raising cholesterol levels.” Hondros was looking for information on nutrition, cow herd management, and genetics. During the meeting, Dr. Fluharty suggested that he meet with Pang, as he had exceptional Wagyu genetics, and a wealth of knowledge regarding the Wagyu breed.
Over the next few months, Hondros joined Adams and Pang to form Ohio Wagyu BeefTM. Their goal is to have a program based in Ohio, and to utilize cattle feeders and processors in Ohio, with the hope of developing cooperating cow-calf herds who may want to breed their high-quality commercial Angus cows to Pang’s Wagyu genetics. According to Sales and Marketing Specialist Kim McCann, “We want to provide consumers with a locally-raised product, that has a superior quality to anything else on the market.”
Currently, Fred Voge, a cattle feeder from West Alexandria, and former attendee of the Ohio Beef Feedlot School, is feeding cattle for the program using the nutritional programs recommended by Dr. Fluharty. They will be marketing the beef under the name Sakura Wagyu Beef. Sakura means “cherry blossom” in Japanese and is a nod to the Japanese origins of Wagyu cattle. As the program grows, the impact of Ohio State’s research in feedlot nutrition and meat science should be an even more positive force in Ohio’s agricultural opportunities.
According to Pang, “Ohio State’s role in the development of a better-eating quality meat like Wagyu can be tremendous. With its staff, knowledge, and research, it can help the local farmer get away from the commodity based pricing that local beef farmers are facing today, to a market where the pricing is more performance based. I think highly of your Meat Science program and the knowledge it lends to local farmers on animal husbandry. I could not have been a beef farmer without their help.”